Well and Truly Oaked!
OAK VALLEY WINES
Sunday 5 March 2017
Today was Elgin day and time to explore a new wine-growing area. I had reason to visit beyond my natural curiosity and sense of adventure. The Society May meeting (put the 18th in your diary now please!) will be featuring wines from Elgin, Hermanus and Walker Bay in the Cape South Coast Region. I therefore tasted with a reason. I stopped off at the Red Tractor café which, I believe is actually called the Peregrine Farmstall, just one hour from Cape Town on the N2 to plot my day. Not all the vineyards are open on Sundays but Oak Valley immediately caught my eye.
Barely 5 minutes later I was driving through dappled shade along the aptly-named Oak Avenue to the farm. ‘Farm’ is an appropriate word too as, reading later, I discovered that Oak Valley does much more than produce wine. The estate was founded in 1898 by a medical doctor called Sir Antonie Viljoen with a passion for farming and vision.
Sir Antonie planted the first commercial deciduous apple orchards in the valley and is regarded as the father of the apple industry in Elgin. The farm too, at one time, was the largest charcoal producer in the country made using black wattle that was planted on the estate. His love of trees led him to plant some 4,000 oaks on 30 hectares of the farm. Despite a substantial vineyard being planted in 1908 (to be taken out in the early 1940s), the oaks were not grown for wine barrels. Indeed, Sir Antonie’s will decreed that no future inheritor of the property should cut down the oak trees.
Over a hundred years later Oak Valley continues with the broad farming tradition. Apple and pear production dominates with over 350 hectares of orchards. The farm is the largest supplier of fresh cut flowers in the Western Cape, grown in 16 hectares of greenhouses and open fields. A further 600 hectares is devoted to pasture and the production of gourmet meats: free-range and waygu beef as well as pork, acorn-fed of course!
I digress so back to the wines. The Tasting Room (and deli) is at the rear of the Pool Room Restaurant which was just a short walk up a slope from the car park. The arrival for my first time was special. The pool and surrounding building are hidden by the slope but came into view as I walked closer. It was as unexpected as it was spectacular. The cream buildings with the turquoise blue water were immediately inviting. I felt like a house guest. I wanted to cool off from the afternoon heat and swim in the pool but that was not allowed.
Steph was my wine-tasting host, patient and courteous, and a mine of information. I decided to sample the selection of 6 wines which cost just R30, the fee waived on bottle purchase. The view from the elevated restaurant back across the pool and to the mountains beyond was magnificent.
Three white wines, tasted ‘blind’, started my tasting. I had not tasted ‘blind’ since before my mini-tour to the Wolseley area. I expected a challenge and how I did. The ‘cool climate wines’ of Elgin were not like those from the Constantia Valley. I was nearly there with the Sémillon but should learn to trust my nose more. I picked out the combination of herby and straw-like nose with aromatic floral and apple/citrus notes – making neither Sauvignon Blanc nor Chardonnay – but let my brain fool me into not choosing Sémillon.
The first was a Riesling – a variety I have tasted little of – but I preferred the lightly-wooded Chardonnay (9 months in 26% new French oak barrels, the remainder in 2nd and 3rd fill). It was creamy and full of vanilla, lemon citrus and light floral notes, with a hint of spiciness. The Chardonnay grapes are grown from some of the oldest vines on the farm, planted in 1992, mixed with plants from 2008. The 30 hectares of mountain vineyard unfortunately were not accessible from the Pool Room but high behind at between 300m and 600m above sea level.
I could tell that the Elgin wines were going to fascinate and the reds did not let me down. First up was a Pinot Noir, the highest grown in South Africa at some 500m above sea level. I had not tasted the grape variety before and so was very satisfied to have correctly identified it during ‘blind’ tasting. This was the lightest bodied red wine I have tasted, deep pink to cherry red in colour and reminiscent of a dark rosé. The nose was fresh, alcoholic and fruity with notes of maraschino cherry, strawberry and raspberry. It was clear and simple on the palate. The high 13.5% alcohol content matched the nose. This was a wine I had to buy.
My final two reds showed again how Elgin wines differed from those I had sampled before. The cool climate lessens the typical peppercorn spice of Shiraz and fooled me into thinking I was tasting a Pinotage. The wine had the clearest coffee and chocolate notes on first sniff that I have tasted in a wine and so confused me further. The final red was a blend – which I picked up – but it did not stand up to my favourite of the tasting, the Pinot Noir.
Oak Valley was a pleasure. Wines were served at the right temperature – sadly, in my experience that is not always guaranteed – and the cool climate showed me a new dimension in wine. The wines are not cheap, upwards of circa R100 a bottle, but interested and were of high quality and rating. I would have liked to have explored the vineyards and, some time, the cellar. There’s much to explore here. The farm has many mountain bike trails and is one of the staging points for the Cape Epic.
I wanted to call my partner and tell her to come for lunch there and then! The food looked amazing too and there were many family groups enjoying a relaxing and tasty Sunday lunch. That will have to wait until after the Cape Epic. Oh, and did I tell you too that one of the oldest buildings on the farm has recently been converted into a cottage for 2 people ……
Wines tasted (bought *):
2016 Stone and Steel Riesling – R85
2014 Oak Valley Sémillon – R95
2015 Chardonnay – R160
2014 Pinot Noir – R195* FAVOURITE WINE
2015 Shiraz – R120
2011 Bordeaux Blend (45% Merlot, 35% Cabernet Franc, 15% Petit Verdot, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon) – R160